Brian Muir ‘I am you’re father’s father’ speaks to MCMBuzz

Brian sculpting Royal Coat of Arms for Crown Court at age of 21

Brian sculpting Royal Coat of Arms for Crown Court at age of 21

 Step aside Michelangelo and make way for visual virtuoso Brian Muir (queue The Imperial March). Responsible for sparking life into enchanting environments, wacky worlds and cult characters in over 60 (and counting) films since 1968, the 59 year old sculpting screen saint has gifted audiences for four decades, and is famously recognised as ‘the force’ (pun intended) behind the immortal and iconic… Darth Vader (Star Wars). Brian is also the one to thank for alien space jockey’s (Alien), James Bond shark attacks (The Spy Who Loved Me), Nazi infested secret islands (Raiders Of The Lost Ark), and providing Warwick Davis with a comfortable home (Willow).

With his recent work on Tim Burton‘s latest viral vampire adaptation Dark Shadows, starring Johnny Depp and Christopher Lee, and his involvment in 2012’s aggravatingly anticipated Snow White and the Huntsman, starring Kristen Stewart, Brian is currently hot property and outstandingly busy. However, he has kindly taken the time to talk to Liam from MCM Buzz about the past, present and the future.

Liam Swann – Hey Brian, I would just like to start by saying it’s such

Royal Coat of Arms painted

Royal Coat of Arms painted

a privilege to be able to speak with you, as an aspiring film-maker and Star Wars fanatic it’s great to be able to talk with someone who makes the magic happen.
Well, you have obviously become one of the industry’s key figures in sculpture and model design, from the creation of Darth Vader himself, to having work unveiled by the Queen, but was sculpting something you always intended on doing as a career? And how did you get into it (particularly with the film industry being such a hard path to pursue)?

Brian Muir – Although I became interested in art at the age of 13, when I realized that I could draw, a career as a sculptor was not something that I would ever have dreamed of when I was at school. After leaving school at 16, I was offered an apprenticeship as a carpenter but I really wanted to pursue my love of art. Luckily the opportunity arose when the local careers officer advised me of a vacancy for an apprentice sculptor at ABPC Studios (now know as Elstree Studios). Twelve candidates had been turned down before me but I became lucky number thirteen!

 

Brian sculpting Death Star Droid at Elstree Studios for A New Hope 1976

Brian sculpting Death Star Droid at Elstree Studios for A New Hope 1976

Liam – Being only 23 years old when the opportunity for Star Wars arrived, did you ever expect your work to become so influential and globally adored as it is today, as you potentially left your secure job to work on Star Wars? And what were your initial thoughts of the concept art sketched by Ralph McQuarrie?

Brian – When I was asked if I wanted to work on a sci-fi film with some futuristic characters, I jumped at the chance as I was eager to get back into the film industry. Although I had a secure job and was told that it may only be 6 weeks work on Star Wars, I felt it was worth the risk as I would be back doing the work I loved. As it turned out I was on the production for 5 months and the gamble certainly paid off! I had absolutely no idea until I watched the crew showing of A New Hope of the incredible vision George Lucas had brought to the screen and I certainly had no inkling of how my work would be appreciated by Star Wars fans worldwide so many years later. I remember Ralph McQuarrie’s concept art as being very detailed which was a pleasure to use as reference for the characters.

 

Liam – Aside from being ‘In The Shadow Of Vader’ as your book is so honestly titled, you have worked on an extraordinary amount of very

Horse panel in Banqueting Room sculpted in polystyrene

Horse panel in Banqueting Room sculpted in polystyrene

significant productions from Indiana Jones, numerous James Bond Titles, Clash Of The Titans (the good one) and even the Harry Potter series. The book is packed with stories from your colourful career within the film industry, some of which have never been discussed before, but which film was the most exciting to work on, and what memory, or memories, stick out the most? (You can tell us your favourite, we won’t tell Lucas)…

Brian – If I have to choose a favorite, which is difficult, as there have been so many that have been great experiences, it would be Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. But I have to acknowledge that without my involvement in Star Wars and particularly Darth Vader none of my other work would have been known or acknowledged by the fans. It was a real pleasure to work on Temple of Doom as it had a great atmosphere and I had some significant pieces to sculpt. The production designer was Elliott Scott,’Scotty’, who was very amiable but with his wealth of experience knew exactly how to tie the director down to advise him of the required camera angles and shots to prevent the overbuilding of the sets. Amongst the many pieces I sculpted was the gong (portraying a dragon and Paramount mountain) that Indiana Jones uses as a shield from gunfire in the Obi-Wan nightclub. Also in the Temple, I sculpted the elephant’s head that Indiana Jones lassos with his whip to swing on and the heart that was removed from the human sacrifice (which was deemed as too realistic and was censored from the UK showing). I particularly liked the handed (one left and one right) horse panels that I sculpted in polystyrene for the Banqueting room as I thought the design of the set worked extremely well. I have seen it written in interviews that both Lucas and Spielberg also enjoyed their experience in the making of this film.

 

Liam – Speaking of ‘In The Shadow Of Vader’, there is a touching tribute to the talented and praised, late Liz Moore (C3PO / Stormtrooper designer and sculptor of Star Child 2001: A Space Odyssey) who you have infamously supported during the original Stormtrooper court battle. What more can you tell us on the story, and what actually happened between Lucasfilm and SDS?

Brian – I’m disappointed that, as hard as I fought for Liz Moore, she did not get the credit she deserved for the Stormtrooper helmet but at least her name and portfolio of work have now come to the fore. Once it had been established in court that it was not Ainsworth who had sculpted the helmet, Lucasfilm had to move on to other aspects of the case, as there was so much ground to cover in a short time. To ensure that Liz’s work will be seen and not forgotten I will soon be adding a tribute page to her on my web site www.brianmuirvadersculptor.com. From my personal point of view, I’m satisfied that the judge found in his verdict that I sculpted the armour.
The reason Lucasfilm had to bring Ainsworth to task was because the licensees, who had paid $2.5 million to make Stormtrooper replicas, had complained to them that he was illegally taking their custom. The witnesses for Lucasfilm including: – John Mollo, John Richardson (for the late Liz Moore) and myself had no choice but to ensure that our contributions towards the creation of the Stormtrooper were recognised and not stolen by Ainsworth. I am glad the case has finally concluded and always felt that once the judge had disappointingly labeled the Stormtrooper armour ‘industrial’ the decision could be overturned. I have a detailed account of the court case in my book which makes for an interesting read.
Although Ainsworth continues to work the media-machine and put his spin on a ‘win’, the judgement will always be there for all to read which discredits him and his reputation http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2008/1878.html.
It is unfortunate that the media chose the David vs Goliath analogy, as although it may have made for a good eye-catching headline, the story behind it is not such an outstanding victory. Thankfully, many true Star Wars fans, who have followed this lengthy saga, know the truth but still far too many continue to be deceived. There are numerous sources on the Internet that document the facts so hopefully anyone looking for the truth will find it.

Prince Charles visiting Brian’s workshop, Elstree Studios in 1999

Prince Charles visiting Brian’s workshop, Elstree Studios in 1999

Liam – Your book is laced with banter with colleagues and strange antics of actors. With a catalogue of over 40 years you must have worked with just about anyone who is anyone. It’s safe to say you couldn’t have a conversation without name-dropping. Amongst the array of directors and actors, who was one of the most favourable and what story could you give us?

Brian – Although one of my most memorable and proud moments does not involve an actor or director it is someone famous. The occasion was the day Prince Charles visited my workshop at Elstree Studios in 1999 when I had my own business, Elstree Design and Construction. He came to the studios to open the newly constructed George Lucas stage. The studio grounds and buildings had to be thoroughly checked and then a woman from his security came to vet me. She wanted to know what I would be showing Prince Charles. As I was working on Sleepy Hollow at the time, I intended to explain to him the sculpting methods of the piece I had just completed and then to show him my portfolio. The first photo showed the Harrods fish display, so I was told to skip that page, as it was a very sensitive topic due to the connection with Dodi Alfyed and Diana. I was told that I would get a signal to wind up the conversation when the visit was to come to an end.
Initially I felt a bit nervous, but Prince Charles was very relaxed and put me at ease. He has a real passion for films and was genuinely interested in sculpting and my portfolio. The time flew but when I received a tap on the shoulder letting me know the visit was over Prince Charles said to ignore it as he wanted to continue for a while longer. He made a speech and officially opened the George Lucas stage, which was followed by a party, including people from the old Elstree Studio era. It was an unforgettable day!

Liam – You have currently been working on Snow White and the Huntsman, released in 2012 and staring Twilight vamp victim Kristen Stewart. Can you tell us what you have been working on for the production, and what we can expect from the dark and twisted take on the loved fairytale?

Brian – Unfortunately as the film is still in production I’m unable to give you any details except that I sculpted some architectural pieces and was part of a team sculpting some colossal trees which I’m sure will look very impressive. I’m very curious myself to see the finished film as it looks to be a very different take on the classic Snow White story.

Liam – Also… ‘Dark Shadows’ is Tim Burton’s latest macabre oddity based on the TV series of the same title, which you have also just finished in the art department for. Tim Burton is famous for his absurd, obscure Gothic approach to film making. What was it like working for self confessed ‘Odd Ball’ Tim, and did you play any part in the creation of the monsters, witches, werewolves and ghosts we remember from the original show?

Brian – I wish there was a quirky story to tell but although Tim Burton came into the workshop a few times, we had no direct contact. He observed the progress from a distance and made it obvious that he did not want to engage into conversation with anyone. It was the very talented production designer, Rick Heinrichs, who oversaw the sculptural work. I had previously worked with Rick on Sleepy Hollow, Captain America and Planet of the Apes. He has designed some incredible sets for Dark Shadows and I’m sure with Tim and Rick’s combined talents it is sure to be an entertaining film. I didn’t have the pleasure of sculpting any of the weird creatures that may appear in the film as most of the creature work is done on computer these days.

Liam – Out of all the pieces and sets you have crafted, from spaceship wreckage in Planet of the Apes to raging rabid dogs in The Little Shop Of

Assyrian King panel being laid down by plasterers ready for moulding

Assyrian King panel being laid down by plasterers ready for moulding

Horrors, what was your favourite and the most fun to create, and what can you tell us about the process?

Brian – One piece that sticks in my mind is a 14ft winged King for the film Alexander. The Assyrian style is a particular favorite of mine and I enjoyed the challenge of modelling this large piece in clay. Due to years of experience and having to work to tight deadlines when I had my own company for ten years I was able to complete it in two weeks. The plasterers gave me a round of applause when it was finished and I can assure you they are a very difficult bunch of guys to impress!
The process began by drawing the design up to size and then transferring it to a large wooden board. It was then coated with shellac, which helps the clay to adhere. I put screws into the wood at a height I knew would be below the depth of the finished clay sculpt. They were also within the lines of the drawing. The screws prevent the large volume of clay from sliding off the board.
As the sculpt was so high I had to work from a tower so that I could work with the board upright. I roughed in the clay judging the correct weight and depth. Then I modeled in all the fine details and brought the job to a good finish ready for molding and casting by the plasterers.

Liam – Although you are still heavily involved in the film business, and work on countless projects each year, you have managed to stay very loyal to you fans and have attended many MCM events and other conventions across the world. Is this something you enjoy doing with the opportunity to meet admirers of you’re work? And how does it feel to still have work you created 40 years ago loved globally?

Brian – I consider myself very fortunate to have followed a career path I’ve loved and now, at the latter stage of my career, being appreciated for it. Having had no knowledge of the Star Wars fanbase until 2006, when I was invited to attend my first convention at Memorabilia, the enthusiasm from the fans amazed and continues to amaze me. Since then I’ve attended many conventions in the UK and also been lucky enough to be invited to Germany, Holland, Japan and USA and enjoyed all of them. There is always a great atmosphere of fun with the fans themselves dressing up and the 501st or other costuming organizations making sure the events are memorable.

Brian signing at SciFi South convention UK June 2010

Brian signing at UK Convention June 2010

Liam – Again, thank you so much for taking the time to speak to MCM. In one final note, what can we expect from Brian Muir in the future?

Brian – Thank you Liam it was a pleasure. As far as my future… well the great thing is that since I took that chance in 1976 to leave a secure job to rejoin the precarious film industry I never know what is in store for me. Luckily the British Film Industry is alive and well at the moment and I’m currently working on Anna Karenina at Shepperton Studios. Hopefully I won’t be hanging up my sculpting tools for a few years yet and I also look forward to meeting fans, old and new, at future conventions.

 

 

For more information on Brian’s dazzling career in the film industry, ‘In The Shadow Of Vader’ is now available via Amazon, or Brian’s personal website www.brianmuirvadersculptor.com (available from eShop on website).

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